'Denied Because of My Criminal Record:' Prison Fellowship Fights for Second Chances for Formerly Incarcerated
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For more than 40 years, the Christian ministry Prison Fellowship has worked on the behalf of justice reform, focusing on prisoners, former prisoners, and their families.
In 2017, it began the nationwide initiative known as Second Chance Month, to help celebrate those who have paid their debt to society.
For Sammy Perez, life was hard growing up. He spent nearly ten years of his life behind bars, starting when he was just a child.
"I quickly took to the streets and started to follow men who weren't the best example and started to get into trouble at a very early age," Perez told CBN News. "Unfortunately, I was first arrested around 8 years old and that cycle just continued."
During his last time in prison, an encounter with God transformed Perez's life. Despite that change, he faced many hurdles after his release.
"I struggled with finding housing as well as finding employment," he said. "I've actually applied for a number of different jobs and had great conversations with hiring managers about the position, about the role. I've actually been given, been offered a position, and accepted that position only to find out later that I was actually denied because of my criminal record."
It is one problem that Prison Fellowship seeks to eliminate with the recognition of second chance month.
"We need to celebrate the second chances that all of us have received and extend those to others, specifically men and women with a criminal record," said Kate Trammell, Senior Director of Advocacy at Prison Fellowship.
According to Prison Fellowship, 1 in 3 one Americans have some form of criminal record and face about 44,000 legal barriers to success once they are out of prison.
By partnering with other faith groups to celebrate second chances, Prison Fellowship hopes to erase some of those barriers.
"Whether that's having a culture of welcome in your church, or at your table, we want to channel this into real solutions and so we work every day on our public policy team to identify barriers that are unnecessary and that have significant impact on men and women's success on the outside and to remove those," explained Trammell.
Presidents Joe Biden and Donald Trump have acknowledged the effort, reaffirming the importance of helping formerly incarcerated people to reenter society. It is recognition that Prison Fellowship applauds while admitting that more needs to be done.
"We're most concerned about those things that keep people from the essentials – housing, jobs, education, and family flourishing – things that many of us take for granted in our day-to-day life. And we want to ensure others have access too so that they can have the healthy lives that we're trying to teach them to have," said Trammell.
Grateful for his chance, Perez now serves on staff at Prison Fellowship, recruiting volunteers for the ministry's advocacy work so others can follow his path.
"I'm truly humbled by the second chance that I have received," commented Perez. "Not only from our Lord and Savior in saving my soul, for giving me a new heart and new life, but for the people who have given me a second chance."
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